Sophie Nys
Utopia Song

2011
Digital Video
Stereo Sound
9 min 50 sec

The Ministry of Construction, like many business and public institutions in Japan, has its own anthem. The lyrics of Utopia Song, unchanged since 1948, include “asphalt blanketing the mountains and valleys...a splendid Utopia.”

Gone are the days when the Ministry of Construction of Japan simply poured wet concrete over hillsides. Today's earthworks use concrete in countless inventive forms: slabs, steps, bars, bricks, tubes, spikes, blocks, protruding
nipples, lattices, hexagons and wire nets.

Japan is a wealthy post-industrial nation in an industrial developing mode, still. It behaves like a poor developing country and that is where Japan is in some senses failed at modernism. Since decades the focus has been on the
technology of flattening hill and ocean sides, but of course in other parts of the developed world, in particular Europe and the US, we would no longer view that all by itself as advanced technology. We would view the ability to built the road in the least damaging fashion as advanced technology.

After decades of building to no particular purpose and to support the construction industry, the legacy is visible everywhere, with hardly a single hillside standing free of giant slabs of cement built to prevent 'landscape damage', even though many of these are located miles away from any human habitation.

The idea that nature is dirty, that shiny smooth surfaces and straight lines are preferable to the messy contours of mountains and rivers, is one of the strangest attitudes to have taken root in modern Japan, given the country's
traditions.

The mountains are getting covered with concrete because that's the creation of something beautiful. A big and expensive concrete plane is beautiful in people's eyes because it is progress and the more concrete they see the more progressive, modern and wealthy they feel.

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